By Jonathan London
Reading the brief item in The Enterprise on July 10, “School benches charred with swastikas; police investigating as hate incident,” I felt a mix of anger, despair and fear. Whatever the motivations of the vandals, these symbols, burned into picnic tables at Holmes Junior High School, sent a powerful message to me as a Jew: you and your kind are not welcome in Davis.
Like the noose hung on the goal posts of the high school earlier this summer, the Nazi swastika is a sign of hate, a mechanism of terror. These signs speak, and they say: Be afraid, be very afraid.
What is to be done to respond to such violations of community decency? In speaking with friends and family, and in my own mind, I experience a dilemma. Isn’t it better to ignore these acts of hate, and to deny the perpetrators the satisfaction of a public reaction? What if this is merely the act of an “unlearned coward,” as Superintendent Winfred Roberson described it? Won’t reacting to these incidents inspire others to commit similar, or even larger acts?
The fact that this new Nazi graffiti appeared soon after the powerful public outcry — led by my colleague, Jann Murray-García — over the hanging noose, and spray-painted “N-word” and swastika incidents last month, might support this point of view.
Maybe, but I believe the opposite is true. In “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/publications/ten-ways-to-fight-hate-a-community-response-guide), the lack of a vigorous and unified response to hate incidents is communicated to the current (or future) perpetrators as apathy, which can escalate symbolic violence into physical violence. If left unchallenged, hate persists and grows. Or, as the U.S. Department of Justice puts it in its community education, “Don’t wait to fight hate.”
In this light, the statement by Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov, “There are no suspects at this time and no evidence to suggest this incident is somehow related to the prior … hate incidents that occurred last month” strikes a false note. While there may be no forensic evidence linking the perpetrators of these violations, there is abundant evidence that these incidents are deeply related, as they draw from the same historical repertoire of racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism and other virulent strains of hate.
While courtroom rules require evidence of intent to classify such incidents as a crime, no such evidentiary rules are needed to justify a community response to such acts as violations of our values of decency, inclusion and justice.
The community meeting organized by Murray-García, and the speeches by Davis political and civic leaders, sent a powerful message about these positive values, as did community mobilization to the many similar incidents over the years. But, in the face of what must be seen not as isolated acts but as a continued pattern, it is time for the institutional leadership of Davis — the City Council, Police Department, school district, the courts, UC Davis, the Chamber of Commerce and others — to step up.
It is simply unacceptable to have the only notice of this latest hate incident be communicated not by the Police Department or the school district or the City Council, but only in a short item on Page 2 of the local paper several days after it occurred. How many times do community organizations need to implore city leaders to be proactive in addressing hate in Davis, and how many city officials need to make brave statements with little follow-through, before real and lasting action is taken?
What would it look like to have these institutions develop a formal strategy to take immediate and coordinated action to investigate, publicize, educate and mobilize community action to fight hate? Can we envision an emergency council of community leaders that can convene to ensure that all sectors of the community are informed and working together?
What if the Davis PD made a more concerted effort to train its officers in the knowledge, skills and processes necessary to effectively respond to, and hopefully prevent, future hate incidents? In the very minimum, can the police do a better job publicizing their hate crimes hotline — (530) 747-5430 — in the schools and in the broader community, and staff it with personnel with expertise in hate crimes?
The swastika, burned into benches or painted on walls, and the noose hung on the goal post are not pranks, and they are not isolated incidents. They are part of a historic pattern in Davis and in communities across the country that is intolerable and must be confronted, head on, at kitchen tables, in board rooms, in our houses of worship and on these pages. Don’t wait to fight hate.
Before learning of this latest hate crime, I wanted to write this column about why I switched from a too-big-to-exist bank to a local credit union, and how this was one productive expression of my disgust with the banking oligarchy. For all the reasons above, I have prioritized this more burning issue, so for now I direct readers to “Breaking Up the Banks: I Did It!” on the Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-lotke/breaking-up-the-banks-i-d_b_875377.html.
— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at [email protected]